The opening scene

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene, Orlando confronts his older brother Oliver about the way he has been treating him since their father’s death, demanding to be given the chance to be a gentleman.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Now, sir, what make you here?

    Now, sir, what are you doing?

    Nothing: I am not taught to make anything.
    What mar you then, sir?

    What are you undoing/ruining then, sir?

    Marry, sir, I am helping you to mar that which God made, a poor unworthy brother of yours, with idleness.

    Well, sir, I am helping you to undo/ruin something that God made.

    Marry, sir, be better employed, and be naught awhile.

    Go away.

    Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?

    How much of my inheritance have I wasted to make me so poor?
    This phrase references the biblical story of the prodigal son who asks for his inheritance early, squanders it, and then must care for pigs and live off their scraps. Notice the alliteration of ‘prodigal portion’ and the repeated ‘p’ sound in ‘penury’.

    Know you where you are, sir?
    O, sir, very well: here in your orchard.
    Know you before whom, sir?
    Ay, better than him I am before knows me. I know you are my eldest brother, and, in the gentle condition of blood, you should so know me. I have as much of my father in me as you.

    Because of our noble breeding/because of the affection we should feel because we are related by blood.

    What, boy!
    Raises his hand or hits him
    Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.

    Oh come on, older brother, you are too inexperienced in fighting.

    Grabs him
    Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?

    Will you.

    I am no villain: I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois, he was my father, and he is thrice a villain that says such a father begot villains. Wert thou not my brother, I would not take this hand from thy throat till this other had pulled out thy tongue for saying so. Thou hast railed on thyself.

    Anyone who says that my father was the father of villains is himself three times a villain (because my father had three sons).

    Were you.

    You have insulted yourself.

    Sweet masters, be patient: for your father’s remembrance, be at accord.

    For your dead father’s memory, be at peace with each other.

    Let me go, I say.
    I will not, till I please: you shall hear me. My father charged you in his will to give me good education: you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities. The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it: therefore allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament, with that I will go buy my fortunes.

    In his will, my father told you to give me a good education. Instead you have brought me up like a peasant, keeping from me all things that would make me a gentleman. But now the spirit of my father is rising up in me, and I won’t put up with it anymore. Therefore, give me the freedom to be a gentleman, or give me the small inheritance my father left me so I can go and find my fortunes with it.

    Lets him go
    And what wilt thou do? Beg when that is spent? Well, sir, get you in. I will not long be troubled with you. You shall have some part of your will. I pray you leave me.

    I won’t have to put up with you for long. You will have some part of what you want/deserve.

    I will no further offend you than becomes me for my good.
    [To Adam] Get you with him, you old dog.
    Is ‘old dog’ my reward? Most true, I have lost my teeth in your service. God be with my old master, he would not have spoke such a word. [Exeunt Orlando and Adam]
    Is it even so? Begin you to grow upon me? I will physic your rankness, and yet give no thousand crowns neither. Holla, Dennis!

    Do you begin to take liberties with me? I will cure/deal with your insolence.

    In the same way that Duke Frederick acts very quickly and impulsively to remove threats, Oliver immediately calls a servant to him to put into action his plan to deal with Orlando the very moment he has thought of it.

  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version? What words do they stress as they perform, and why?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of As You Like It at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the opening scene feel right to you?